Invisible societies find their place in the Lyon Historical Museum

The Lyon Historical Museum is undergoing renovation with a new permanent exhibition “Lyonnais, Lyonnaises”. The story is no longer told chronologically, but thematically, so that culture in all its forms is accessible to all.

Not everyone is a fan of history museums with extended timelines and rows of portraits. To re-attract this public tired of traditional museums, the Lyon-Gadagne History Museum decided to reinvent itself. No more linear narration of the city’s history according to chronology, make room for an innovative thematic tour. His latest exhibition “Lyonnais, Lyonnaises” reveals a new era of his permanent collection. This arrangement has drawn criticism, but the museum team is not backing down: the ambition is to make history accessible to everyone.

The people responsible for the place opted for a more playful approach. Workers’ struggle, feminism, the silk trade: all are re-evaluated through testimonies that invite the public to touch, see and listen.

A museum for everyone

The museum is located in old Lyon. Every year since 2019, it offers a new theme that offers an immersive experience on more than 1,100 square meters divided into eighteen rooms.

From the beginning, the visitor is taken by the hand and follows the proposed story. Once we arrive, we meet six fictional characters that represent the diversity of Lyon’s citizens. They embody historical periods and bring them closer to us. Traditional portraits displayed with unusual modern objects accompany the visitor the entire way. For example, the first exhibition suggests wearing the traditional Stan Smith.

After exploring the DNA of the city on the first floor, we move on to the second, on the topic of ecology. A fundamental theme in this city, which has the specificity of the presence of the confluence of two rivers. Illustrated with views of Lyon, the story and games are designed to raise environmental awareness among young audiences.

The third problem concerns the industry in Lyon, which is still very present. This third part aims to ask young people about working conditions over the ages. It also opens the field to new, sometimes unknown opportunities. The exhibition also highlights the silk production that shaped the city’s luxury industry.

This machine, unique in Europe, was used to produce silk by the Jacquard company.  (PHILIPPE SOMNOLET)

The fourth and final theme of this exhibition, visible since mid-December, concerns commitments in the city. While we deplore young people’s lack of interest in civic life, fieldwork has shown otherwise. “Living in a city is not just about being part of a geographic area, it’s also about having rights, not feeling like a second-class citizen,” explains Claire D├ęglise, exhibition manager. This is what the Gadagne museum route is trying to do to restore a place to all the inhabitants of Lyon, from bourgeois circles to the working class, from the immigrant population that built the city to today’s leaders. The historical challenge of the exhibition is to make every actor in the city visible.

“Lyon has a reputation as a bourgeois city, always represented in museums with portraits of the great elites, but for once we are including the faces of the working class. There is a very current page.”

Karine, visitor

at franceinfo Culture

New exhibition "Lyonnais, Lyonnaises" it gives space to all citizens so that none of them feel second-rate.  (INAS HAMOU ALDJA / FRANCEINFO)

It deals with other topics such as the right to access to education, the Protestant tradition, feminist struggles or the fight against racism. It’s impossible to leave without learning something! Did you know, for example, that the industrial tribunal was born in Lyon?

Every year, 80,000 people visit the business and it is not over, as the museum in Gadagne prepares the future floors to complete the exposition. The first will arrive in autumn 2024 and will focus on the architecture of buildings and the Old Lyon district. Finally, in 2025, the attic (normally inaccessible to the public) will open its doors to reveal a collection of lapidary from the Middle Ages. Far from being an ordinary conservatory, the Gadagne Museum stands out as an inclusive place where history is within reach.

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